Bruce, Big Sam and England’s Big Mistake

Sam-Allardyce-Steve-Bruce

Sam Allardyce reacts to the West Ham crowd after they booed the team off following an unconvincing 2-1 win over Hull in 2014.

 

Ever since Roy Hodgson stepped down as manager of the England men’s football team following a disastrous campaign at Euro 2016, speculation has been rife as to who will fill his shoes and attempt to lead the country into the next World Cup in Russia two years from now.

Originally, international names including Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klinsmann appeared to be in the frame as the Football Association looked to move on from a three-tournament barren spell under the home-grown Hodgson, who was ultimately exposed as quite simply not being up to the job. However, as the search has progressed it appears that the FA have narrowed their choice to Hull boss Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce, who saved Sunderland from relegation during the 2015/16 season.

While both Allardyce and Bruce have had solid careers in management and rank first and third in Premier League games managed by an Englishman, neither has won a major trophy during their lengthy careers on the touchline and inspire little in the way of optimism for long suffering England fans.

Unlike the national cricket and rugby teams, who immediately targeted the most qualified candidates for the top job regardless of nationality, the FA appear to have made the fatal mistake of prioritising nationality over suitability for the most important position in English football. Is Steve Bruce the most qualified manager England could tempt to file the vacant manager’s role? Is Sam Allardyce? The answer to both is, of course, no, and represents a terrible, if not surprising repeat of the events that saw coaches including Hodgson, Graham Taylor and Kevin Keegan ascend to the role of England manager.

Bruce spent last season managing in the Championship with Hull after he oversaw their relegation from the Premier League two years ago, and while he took them straight back up (via the play-off lottery) he did so with a huge budget and a squad packed full of Premier League pedigree. Bruce’s other roles in England include stints managing Sunderland, Wigan and Birmingham, and while he’s overseen a number of mid-table finishes he has never been able to challenge the top six teams in the table or win a domestic cup.

Allardyce, on the other hand, did manage to lead Bolton to a fifth place finish over a decade ago, however like Bruce he has never won a major trophy in England and his limited style of play has seen him sacked from no fewer than five teams during his lengthy managerial career (four if you believe his departure from West Ham was mutual). While Hodgson at least had experience of managing a top club Allardyce has never been afforded that opportunity, and it is worrying to think that if he wasn’t good enough to pip Steve McClaren to the role in 2006, then why is he better qualified now?

Of the more suitable (but, gasp, not English) candidates, Arsene Wenger fronts the list and although he wouldn’t be available for a year his CV makes Bruce and Allardyce look more qualified to run a Sunday league side than a team packed full of the best players the country has to offer. Wenger knows the English game as well as either having managed in these shores for 20 years, and a number of the current England squad perform under his watchful eye at Arsenal. Jurgen Klinsmann is another name who has been mentioned following his eye-catching performance with Germany at the 2006 World Cup, when he led an unfancied set of players to the last four, before he repeated the feat with the USA in last month’s Copa America.

Other contenders include Guus Hiddink, who has experience managing a number of countries and knows the Premier League and its players well from his two spells with Chelsea, while Louis Van Gaal led Holland to the last four of the 2014 World Cup before his two-year stint with Manchester United, where he won one more trophy than Bruce and Allardyce have managed during their managerial careers.

Unfortunately, none of those names mentioned are English, which appears to have ruled them out of the running in spite of the success enjoyed by Eddie Jones and Trevor Bayliss with the England rugby and cricket teams, respectively, over the past twelve months. Jones followed a Grand Slam winning Six Nations campaign by leading England to their first ever series victory in Austalia, while Bayliss helped England regain the Ashes from his native Australia before taking the team to within two balls of the T20 World Cup this Spring. Does this mean Bruce or Allardyce are certain to fail? No. But it’s a stunning step down the same blind alley that the FA have been frequenting for far too long, and represents another missed opportunity to recruit from a vast number of highlight qualified, and highly interested, coaches from across the globe.

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